The Pointless presenter’s debut crime caper sold millions, with movie rights snapped up by Steven Spielberg. Richard Osman talks to Alex Clark about growing up poor, meeting his estranged father and why he wrote his first book in secret

Sometimes, Richard Osman tells me, complete strangers shout the words “Helen Mirren” at him in the street. He is tickled, but wonders what other passersby make of it. If they have read one of the million-plus copies that Osman’s debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club, has sold, and if they are as good at lateral thinking as the book’s quartet of senior amateur detectives, they may work out that Mirren is a fantasy casting suggestion for Elizabeth, the ex-spook whose capacity for deductive logic takes centre stage in the next book in the series, The Man Who Died Twice.

Elizabeth is a corker of a character: mysterious, steely, aware not only of what’s going on around her, but uncannily tuned in to what’s about to happen too. In her crime-fighting exploits, she’s assisted by three neighbours in her retirement community in the Kent-Sussex borderlands: former rabble-rousing trade unionist Ron; his best pal Ibrahim, a psychiatrist; and Joyce, a cake-baking retired nurse on the constant lookout for love. Joyce’s diary entries – with a touch of Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett’s bathetic, quotidian humour about them – punctuate the novels’ third-person narration.

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